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Elected, Not Redeemed

In the story about President Obama’s firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General overseeing potential misuses of Americorps funds, there is a sidelight that isn’t drawing much attention. And that’s the issue brought up by the subject of Walpin’s last investigation, the one into Kevin Johnson.

Johnson, a former NBA superstar, headed up St. HOPE Academy, an educational nonprofit that received nearly a million dollars in federal grants. Walpin’s investigation showed that Johnson had diverted a great deal of that money for his personal use. In an agreement with the federal government, St. HOPE repaid over $400,000 in funds.

That agreement wasn’t enough for Walpin, who sought a ban on St. HOPE — and its principals who had abused the Americorps funding — from receiving future federal grants. That would have proven quite troublesome in the case of Johnson, who was in the middle of an ultimately successful campaign for mayor of Sacramento. Had Walpin succeeded, it would have prevented Sacramento from getting any federal funding whatsoever.

This hardship was cited as a reason for not imposing what is often a standard penalty for those who admit to misusing federal grants.

The argument here is not a new one, and it is flawed. A person’s winning an election, does not confer upon them some kind of forgiveness for past offenses.

Kevin Johnson grossly misused federal funds. The standard penalty is a common sense one — he shouldn’t be entrusted with federal funds for at least some time. That he is now mayor of the capital of California doesn’t change that.

Winning an election does not have some sort of sanctifying effect. A man who misuses funds and is then elected mayor is now a mayor who has misused funds. And those who voted him into office should expect to have to live with the consequences of their decision.


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